7/18-20/2008: New Hampshire International Speedway
This was supposed to be a dress rehearsal for the 6 hour even at Summit Point. Unfortunately, or fortunately, the results put the viability of the Summit race in question. First things first, though.
This time, I was going with Alan as my right hand man. Straight away, we knew the weather would be good on Friday, but there would be a chance of rain both Saturday and Sunday. We got to the track on time for the afternoon practice on Friday and put in 2 reasonably good sessions in the dry. I wasn't looking for outright speed at that point, seeing as there were enough new things on the bike that I wanted to break everything in, not to mention re-acclimate myself with the track I hadn't been to since last September. We were having a problem with the battery, as it was dying a very rapid death, refusing to accept charge. So much so, that we couldn't even bump-start the bike much of the time. This wasn't a showstopper, but having to take off the seat, hook up the jump starter, and put the seat back on before every session was extremely annoying in practice and certainly would not be acceptable, come a more hectic race schedule. We asked around the paddock, but no one had a battery that would fit the bike, so we decided to cut the day a bit short and go look for a shop. We didn't have much luck that day, but soon after leaving the track, thunderstorms moved in and made for a rather miserable afternoon. We heard about another place we could try for a battery, but elected to go Saturday over lunch.
Saturday morning was sunny and warm. Things seemed to be looking up. Practice went well, dialing speed incrementally in both sessions. The bike was beginning to show some of that familiar instability on the front straight. I was gripping the bars a bit too tight, so I began to focus on my body position and relaxing, which seemed to keep bar oscillations in check. It seemed like that was the ticket and I prepared myself mentally for the only race of the day. With the bad battery, we were able to make the grid, but barely. I asked Alan to come out to the hot pit and wait there until the race started, in case I should need a bump start. As it turned out, the bike shut off as soon as I got to the pre-grid and if Alan hadn't been there, I wouldn't have made the race. It was only a minute or so before Alan got to pre-grid, but it seemed like an eternity, as I was desperately pushing the bike by myself after everyone had gone out on the sighting lap. I almost resigned myself to the possibility of having to start from the pit lane, but lo and behold, Alan appeared and ran to my rescue. Later, he told me, he'd never pushed anything this hard in his life. One push, however, did the trick, and I raced around the track on my "sighting" lap not wanting to hold up the start. After all that drama, I couldn't wait for the start, which caught me sleeping and it seemed like half the field went by me before we got to turn 1. I made up a few positions and started to settle into a pace. Almost immediately, the bike began to do a whole new thing on the front straight -- as soon as I got around the last corner and got a bit of speed, I could see the whole front of the motorcycle shaking up and down, seemingly in tune with the road speed. I brought it down gently for turn 1 and tried to figure out what the hell was going on. They say engineers work best while being shot at. I suppose trying to race on an unstable bike is a good enough approximation. Within a lap or 2 I had a suspicion I was dealing with an out-of-balance front tire and decided to see if it was managable. In my expert opinion, it wasn't :( I could continue to circulate, but the speed I was able to sustain on the main straight was creating quite a closing speed with people coming from behind that it did not seem safe, as well as some other areas, where the balance issue could affect traction. Mad at the whole world, I pulled in. We pulled off the front wheel and took it to the Dunlop guys, which confirmed that indeed the wheel was off balance. I still don't know how it did not exhibit the same behavior prior to the race, but I guess some things are destined to remain a mystery forever. I put the wheel back on and tried to be optimistic toward Sunday's 2 races. Having finished riding for the day, we were able to find a new battery and install it in the bike, just as the evening thunderstorms moved in.
Sunday morning did not look so good, with a bit of drizzle right away, but it didn't look like it would be that bad. Practice felt like there was a bit of improvement, but I suspected the speeds would be down due to the track being a bit damp still. When the times were posted, it was confirmed, as we were going about 4 seconds slower than the day before. It was a bit discouraging, but I chalked it up to the dampness, had some lunch, and began to pray to the racing gods for decent conditions. We had the first race of the day and a decent grid position. I was really looking forward to it, privided it didn't turn into a semi-wet mess. The battery worked great, but drama wasn't to be avoided entirely. The PA system was completely silent that day for some reason, so we weren't quite sure what the race calls were. As soon as I heard some bikes rolling through the pits, we fired up and I made my way to pre-grid, which was filled with bikes with amature and expert plates. I knew something was up and was quickly told it was a rerun of one of the races that got screwed up by the weather on Saturday and that we were up next. Back to the pits I go and back on come the tire warmers. Finally, it was time for our act. I made a better start, but it still wasn't perfect (gotta check the clutch for wear), and the 20 minute race got underway. I was able to keep the leading group of about 4 bikes in sight and started to try to find a pace. First 3 or 4 laps, things were staying mostly unchanged. I could see the bikes in front of me, and they were mostly staying single file. I was getting a bit of headshake on the front straight again and it was clearly hindering my progress. Little by little, I began to lose touch with the group in front of me. Soon after that, it seemed like the headshake got worse. I wasn't sure if it was the bike or I was getting tired and holding the bars too tight again. I decided to relax a bit more and drop a couple of seconds off my pace. That seemed to calm things down and I was able to ride it out, it seemed. No one was coming from behind me. I was afraid I was last, but the leading group didn't seem to be everyone in my wave. As the race drew closer to the end, I tried to get some more speed again. It worked, but on the very last lap, I was passed by the leader of the first wave (I was in second wave at the start). I watched him for a few corners and before I knew it, we took checkered. We later learned, we took 7th out of 10 starters.
The final race of the weekend came and as soon as I pulled out on the sighting lap, what was very light drizzle, began to accumulate on the visor and windscreen into proper drops. It looked like it was intensifying. I was out on slicks and figured the dry line would hold out for the length of this sprint race. My third start of the weekend was approaching decent and I started to make a move on a bike I knew I didn't want to get stuck behind. As I got next to him after turn 1 and was able to see the track in front of us, a bike was already down -- right smack in the middle of the track. Luckily, we both made it around and 2 corners later, the race was red flagged. I knew it would be restarted, but I was getting concerned about the rain, which was starting to pick up more and more. On the second pre-grid, a track marshal asked me if I really wanted to start, as I was apparently the only one on slicks. I started anyway and this time people were falling down on the sighting lap, not the most confidence inspiring thing in the world. Once again, the race was started, and this was really raining now. People continued to fall down all over, and I went into "just bring it home" mode. A few unexpected slides later, I'd finally had enough, came around the track one last time and pulled in early. As soon as I was in the pits, someone else must have really gone down and the race was red flagged for the second time. At that point it was not restarted. We were done. We packed up and went home. Later, I learned that race was rerun, but I can't say care.
The main problem coming off that weekend was that there were unexplained handling issues with the bike, which seemed to be going away and coming back during the course of a 20 minute race. I did some quick steering head bearing checks, but it looked okay. At that point, the Summit Point endurance event was put in question. To be continued...